Karl Darlow's calming influence strengthening Newcastle's defence

Newcastle United's Karl Darlow

The former Nottingham Forest stopper has established himself as Rafael Benitez's first-choice goalkeeper in recent weeks.

Newcastle United goalkeeper Karl Darlow continued his impressive form between the sticks for The Magpies with an assured performance during Saturday's 3-1 league victory over Brentford.

Despite having a relatively quiet afternoon against The Bees at St James' Park, the former Nottingham Forest youngster performed all of his duties with aplomb and brought supporters to their feet with a stunning one handed save to beat away Nico Yennaris's ferocious first-half volley.

Sloppy marking from a second-half corner blighted Darlow's afternoon by preventing him from gaining his second clean sheet in successive outings, however, the popular 26-year-old emerged from the game with plenty of plaudits after another supremely confident outing for Rafael Benitez's side.

The cool-headedness that exudes from Darlow's game is in stark contrast to the chaos that has typified Matz Sels' early displays for Newcastle, and the Magpies' back four is palpably more at ease when the assertive Englishman is behind them as opposed to the erratic summer signing from Gent. 

Against Brentford, Darlow could be heard barking orders at his defence throughout the 90 minutes; ordering them into position and preventing The Bees' dangerous frontline from getting back into the game with their intelligent movement and slick interplay.

Sels has been lambasted by many sections of the St James' Park crowd for his propensity to flap at crosses over the opening months of the season; a frustrating tendency which has caused mayhem in the Newcastle box from opposition set-pieces, particularly at Villa Park last month where the Belgian international's baffling hesitancy allowed Aston Villa to snatch a late equaliser.

However, as well as being an excellent shot-stopper, a major strength of Darlow's game is his ability to command the area, and the 6ft 1ins stopper has expertly dealt with crosses and free kicks since forcing his way into The Magpies starting XI last month; particularly against Rotherham United at the start of October, when the relentless Millers pushed for a late equaliser with an aerial onslaught which would have feasibly borne fruit had Sels been tending the nets.

Darlow's infectious aura of self-confidence has augmented United's defence since his introduction to the starting XI and, though the statistics show that there has been just one clean sheet in the 26-year-old's three league starts this season, his burgeoning relationship with the back four is going from strength to strength; with his almost telepathic understanding with captain and fellow Nottingham Forest academy graduate Jamaal Lascelles providing Benitez with an ace card in his quest to batten down the hatches.

With last season's player of the year Rob Elliot returning to full training following a long-term injury lay off and Sels determined to demonstrate his true ability following an unconvincing start to his Magpies' career, Darlow will be well aware that he faces a battle to maintain the No 1 jersey amid intense competition heading into the crucial winter months.

However, the former Nottingham Forest stopper certainly looks up for the fight and, if he can maintain his eye-catching form over the coming weeks, Darlow has a great chance of establishing himself as a permanent fixture in Rafael Benitez's promotion-chasing side.

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